Yiddish Courses for Spring 2023

Content for Spring 2023

Yiddish 106 (4 units)- Burko, L.

“History of Yiddish Cinema”

This course will trace the history of Yiddish cinema from its “golden era” before World War II down to today. Jews famously played a big role in the development of modern cinema, especially as Hollywood producers and studio moguls. But although many of these moguls knew Yiddish and were themselves immigrants, they were not anxious to make Jewish films at a time of increasing anti-Semitism. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, Yiddish films were not made by the major studios, but independently, mainly in New York and Poland. The Yiddish film industry was closely linked to the world of Yiddish theater, which was enormously popular on New York’s Lower East Side. Many Yiddish films were adapted from stage plays, and film actors had all made a career on the stage. Yiddish cinema thus offers us the best representation available of Yiddish theater in its heyday. After the Holocaust and the rapid shift to English on the part of American Jews, Yiddish cinema vanished from the screens. Films based on Yiddish literature, like Fiddler on the Roof and Barbara Streisand’s Yentl, were produced in English. But recent years have seen an unlikely revival thanks to the rapid growth of the Hasidic population. Not only do Hasidic Jews create films of their own, but mainstream producers make films about Hasidic life or with (ex-)Hasidic actors. For example, “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” (2010) presents the Montegues and Capulets in Brooklyn as rival Hasidic sects, and the award-winning Netflix series “Unorthodox” shows the efforts of a young Hasidic woman who escapes from her constricted life in Brooklyn by moving to Berlin.